Opera star accuses police of racial discrimination after ‘traumatising’ strip-search at Paris airport

23 June 2021, 12:56 | Updated: 23 June 2021, 22:49

South African opera star Pretty Yende accuses French authorities of racial discrimination
South African opera star Pretty Yende accuses French authorities of racial discrimination. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

South African opera star Pretty Yende says she was detained by French authorities, strip searched and held in a cell, on arriving in Paris to star in a performance.

Pretty Yende, a South African opera singer, has accused French immigration authorities of “outrageous racial discrimination and psychological torture” after being detained, strip-searched and held in a dark room at Paris’ main airport.

Yende describes feeling “in shock and traumatised” after police allegedly held her in a cell and took all her belongings, including her mobile phone.

“Police brutality is real for someone who looks like me,” Yende said in a social media post.

Yende, who is Black, is an acclaimed soprano and one of opera’s most exciting young stars. She arrived this week to star in a production of the ‘opera semiseria’ La Sonnambula at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

“Now I have some idea of how it feels to be in prison,” the opera singer added in a post. “Customs treated me like a criminal… I almost missed my performance tomorrow night.”

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Soprano Pretty Yende performs at the Classic BRIT Awards 2018

The opera star has accused authorities of “ill-treatment and outrageous racial discrimination and psychological torture and very offensive racial comments.”

Yende and her agent could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press for comment.

The singer describes the day’s traumatising events in a post on Instagram. “They said they were going to take me to a ‘prison hotel’ in the meantime while they looked at me like I was a criminal offender,” she writes.

“I decided to comply and just do what they say and not try to ‘defend’ my legal self and this in French soil, I was stripped and searched like a criminal offender and put on the retention cell on terminal 2B customs control Charles de Gaulle, Paris.

“It was cold in there, there was no light at the beginning, cold and grey and they left me there alone with the landline phone and a piece of paper they gave me to write down phone numbers of those I could call, most of them refused to address me in English, there were more than ten police officers I could hear talking and laughing down the hallway...”

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Fellow opera singers have been sending Yende messages of support. American soprano Nadine Sierra commented: “This is OUTRAGEOUS! Why?! Why are people so cruel to each other????”

Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja added: “What? How? Why? You need to talk to the press and get those responsible for these actions, fired.”

Yende published a follow-up post thanking her followers for their love and support. “I almost never share the outrageous and inhumane experiences I go through... but this time I couldn’t keep silence,” she said.

“Let’s be thankful I am alive to tell my story, and I wasn’t ‘brutally interrogated’ and physically tortured like many to even this day, families are still wondering what happened and with no answers.”

Yende is scheduled to sing the starring role in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Vienna State Opera in September.